Setting your child up for success this school year

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Back to school – a time filled with mixed emotions.

Kids and teens are back at school and while this experience varies significantly for each child, for some, the first few months of school can cause anxiety for a variety of reasons. Some children may be going to a new school or moving from elementary to Junior High School or from High school to University and these changes can cause anxiety. For some children, school has not been a good experience and they fear this year it will be just more of the same.

There are many things at school that can cause stress and anxiety in children - the relationships they have with other kids and teachers, and the social pressure to fit in. For others it may be the amount of schoolwork and the performance expectation they either place on themselves or they feel is expected of them by their parents or teachers.

On top of that, many children are trying to balance school demands and after school activities.

To help your child minimize their anxiety and help set them up for success, there are a few key things parents can do.

Maintain a routine

After the summer time of vacations and spontaneity, going back to a structured routine can be challenging for anyone, including your child. But routines are important to establish and maintain – they give your child a sense of predictability, structure and control. It helps them learn what is expected of them. Whatever this routine may look like, whether it is meal times, household chores, feeding a pet – have these tasks become regular and expected. Provide a place where the routine is visible, such as a calendar. This will offer guidance to your child. Break down what you expect of your child into steps and join them in completing the tasks the first few times to ensure they understand the routine and the expectations from it. If you haven’t already established a regular sleep routine for your child, it’s important to start. Sleep is crucial for children to function properly, so it’s important that children are well rested before their day.

Although structured routine is important, too much of it could make your child fearful or resistant to change and discourage independence. Allow your child some independence in their routine, such as setting their own alarm clock, or making their own breakfast in the morning. These things will promote life skills like how to set priorities, meet deadlines and develop self-care habits.

Keep communication lines open the whole year

Your child may have a lot of mixed feelings and different worries through out the school year. Maybe they’re worried that they won’t fit in, or they may have difficulty with a subject or class, or they’re being bullied. Regardless of the reason, children’s anxiety and feelings shouldn’t be dismissed. Make sure you check in with your child and keep communication lines open so you can have an idea of what’s going on for them throughout their school day. Sometimes simply asking, “how was your day today?” even if you just get a “ok” can be helpful as it shows you’re interested and care.

To try and get more information from your child you may want to engage in an activity they enjoy, like colouring, playing a game outside, cooking together, etc.. Engaging in these activities can keep the brain stimulated, create a fun and comfortable environment that your child may feel more open to communicate in, and help strengthen your relationship with one another.

Take inventory as a parent

As much as the school year can be nerve-wracking for children, it can also be challenging for the parents. Checking in on what you’re feeling and how that may be translating to your child is important. If you’re demonstrating anxious behaviour, you may be reflecting it onto your child, causing them to mirror your behaviour. This is not to say you can’t have your feelings but being conscious of how you’re demonstrating them in front of your child and changing how you express your feelings so it doesn’t add to their anxiety can make a big difference. Be mindful of you actions and words in front of your kids, as they may mirror your behaviour, whether it be positive or negative.

All of these strategies can help make sure your child has an enjoyable time at school. If you or your child need help with stress and anxiety, we are here to help with no wait list and a sliding fee scale.

Information for this blog was provided by Calgary Counselling Centre’s Natalya Austin and Diana Izard, counsellors who specialize in counselling for children and families.